How do you learn a new language when you're basically antisocial?
How? Tell me! If you speak to anyone about learning languages, their number 1 tip is always to just speak. Speak to everyone you can and practice, practice, practice. But what if you kind of hate talking to people? I mean, I'm not a complete recluse but I would say I'm more on the introvert side of the scale. The older I get, the more I seem to struggle with it too- I'm just not very comfortable striking up generic conversations and it creates real difficulty when I'm trying to improve my language skills. I'm sure my husband wouldn't mind me saying that he can endlessly babble to anyone and everyone and I really envy him this ability.
My reticence is partly anxiety but mainly the fact that I just don't enjoy aimless chat with people I don't know. I tend to take a little while to warm to people, and (maybe because of that) people take a little while to warm to me, and that's not conducive to a great first conversation.
I really hate that this is seen as such a character flaw by most people- I always feel like it's something I need to correct about myself, rather than just a facet of my personality. Combine this with my resting bitch face and I guess you've got a brilliant first impression...
Having said all that, I've had a really good experience so far in Lyon, and pretty much everyone I've met has been extremely friendly and willing to let me try out my French when I eventually splutter it out. It's been over a year now since I moved, and I'm getting kind of fed up with avoiding conversations with neighbours and still being hesitant when talking to waiters, so I think I need to break free of my comfort zone and start with the trivial small talk in the hopes that it'll get me to a more fluent point in the future.
It's all too easy as an English-speaking expat to avoid learning a new language when you move abroad, as our mother tongue has taken a grip on the world and become the modern lingua franca. There are few people in this city around my age who have no English knowledge at all, and you can get by with stock phrases and miming in most situations, which I think is what the majority of Brits do when they live abroad.
We know a community of expats in Lyon and it's hard to not let them become our only social circle. I've recently started to actively seek out opportunities to talk to Frenchies and integrate into French life, because I feel it's part of the whole experience of living abroad, and also because I've studied French for long enough now that I need some payback.
It's such a massive way to gain cultural knowledge too, to learn a language is to study a culture, and a turn of phrase can open your eyes to the way in which a entire country sees a particular issue. With French one thing I've noticed is how precise it is- in English we seem to stick to verbal phrases and not elaborate further. In French there seems to be particular verbs for every single action, and that to me offers insight into the people as a whole. They say swear words are also good indicators of cultural differences- what is seen as verboten in some cultures can be affectionate in another.
I've know of a fair few places in Lyon to practice French with native speakers, and you usually get to help them with their English too, so it's win-win. I've personally had some luck with a site called Conversation Exchange, where you can browse other people's profiles and choose who to meet with for a coffee or casual drink- it's one-on-one and therefore less intimidating to scaredy-cats like me than a group event. I've met some lovely, lovely people who are fluent in English yet are still willing to let me sound out unfamiliar words as they trip over my tongue and I manage to mangle the so-called language of love.
Finally, a great tip that's helped me immensely is from the late, great Michel Thomas, who warns the language learner not to project their own impatience onto others- sometimes when I'm struggling to come up with a word or the way to phrase a particular sentence I assume the person I'm talking to is bored or eager for me to finish, when in fact they are more than likely perfectly happy to wait until I find myself in the conversation again.
Any tips other language learners have would be greatly appreciated, please hit up the comments.
One good thing about having French friends is that they can tell you when you've accidentally called yourself a hooker with your blog name. Péripatéticienne is translated into English as streetwalker. And we all know what that means....